Seeing Ghana in their opening match will be a welcome sight for the USMNT. They have been bounced by the Black Stars in consecutive World Cups: the last game of the group stage in 2006, and the memorable quarterfinal four years later. That last loss, which came at the hands of an Asamoah Gyan goal in the second period of extra time, will be weighing heavily on the minds of the United States players, six of whom return from that losing squad. Seven players return from the Black Stars 2010 World Cup squad, as they have their own redemption to play for, after losing in penalties to Uruguay in the quarterfinal round.
An early goal would be nice, but this mostly has to do with the United States keeping the ball out of their own net to start off the match. The USMNT has a history of slow starts, especially in the World Cup. Dating back to 2006, the United States have allowed its opponent to score first in six of their seven World Cup games, with the lone outlier being the famous 1-0 victory over Algeria. If the Black Stars are able to sneak an early one by U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, this will play right into their game plan of counterattacking football. Ghana would likely put nine or ten men behind the ball at all times, taking away the Americans’ ability to run and forcing them to play in tight spaces in their offensive half.
Guard Against the Counterattack
Ghana’s tactics typically center around defending first, and then utilizing their great team speed and athleticism to mount dangerous counterattacks. They usually accomplish this with a lone striker, Asamoah Gyan, in a 4-5-1, the traditional Ghanaian formation. In African qualifying, the Black Stars had trouble offensively, and switched to a second striker in behind Gyan. Considering the competition they will face in the group stage, however, it’s safe to say that Ghana will hang back and cautiously pick their opportunities.
This puts a lot of pressure on the back line of the United States. If Klinsmann chooses a lineup similar to the one that started against Nigeria a few weeks ago, he will have two holding central midfielders, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, and two fullbacks, Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley, who like to join the attack. In order to keep from being exposed, the center back duo of Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler need to communicate well with the four other defensive players, making sure there is always at least one fullback and one holding midfielder ready to help on the counter.
It shouldn’t be a problem up the middle, since Beckerman usually only hangs back (otherwise Mix Diskerud would be starting), but could pose trouble on the flanks. The Black Stars have several game-changers on the outside, such as Chelsea loanee Christian Atsu, Marseille’s Andre Ayew, and Juventus’s Kwadwo Asamoah. If a few U.S. players get caught out of position, these players have enough pace and technical skill to make them pay.
Jozy isn’t the best player on the USMNT; that would be Michael Bradley. He’s also not the most experienced; that would be DaMarcus Beasley, who made his World Cup debut in 2002. Altidore is the most important player on the USMNT roster, even more so than Bradley, and here’s why: Without Michael Bradley playing up to par, the U.S. will be completely overmatched by any team they face in Brazil. He consistently demonstrates his ability to win tackles and distribute balls all over the field to his teammates. Bradley is almost a prerequisite to success; he needs to play near his best just for the United States to compete.
Altidore is a very different story. He has the ability to put the United States over the top; if he is in form, he transforms the USMNT from a tough matchup to a dangerous contender. Before his two goal outburst against Nigeria, Jozy hadn’t scored for club or country in the calendar year. What most expected to be a huge year for Altidore at Sunderland turned out to be a dud; he came in as a starter but played poorly, had trouble scoring (including a candidate for miss of the season), and was eventually replaced in the starting lineup for Connor Wickham, who led the Black Cats to much late season success. Confidence for a striker can be very fickle; hopefully his recent brace gives Altidore lots of it come Monday, where he will need to finish his chances for the United States to have a chance at advancing out of Group G.